University Heights - Neighborhood Spotlight

  • Matt 'Axe' Axelson
  • 02/17/21

Welcome to University Heights! An incredible community just outside of downtown San Diego, and a few blocks North of Balboa Park. Today, we're going to be going into the history of the community, some landmarks you need to check out next time you're here, my favorite running route, and also how the town got its name.

Kevin Whaley designed the neighborhood sign in 1997, which depicts early aspects of the community, which is really cool. Like the ostriches, the cobblestones from Mission Cliff Gardens and even early streetcars from the trolley barn days.

Originally master-planned in 1887, University Heights was an early streetcar suburb, which helped to support what was happening around that time, and a few years later. John D Spreckels was starting the San Diego Transit System. Real quick aside on Mr. Spreckels, this dude owned everything in San Diego. So, he owned both papers at the time, hotels, theaters, et cetera. He also owned the Coronado ferry, and he started the San Diego transit system like I mentioned a minute ago in addition to developing University Heights. So, this guy is definitely a pioneer of our city. University Heights does not have a university, but it almost did. So, back in the late 1800's, USC or the University of Southern California almost started a second branch in San Diego and they were going to do it here, which is pretty nuts. What actually ended up opening in its place was a teacher state college, which operated for about 30 years and was initiated in 1899.

Following the completion of the transit system in 1890, a five-acre park was developed by John D. Spreckels and was named "The Bluffs" and later renamed to Mission Cliff Gardens, and then later redeveloped into this little community. So the main feature of Mission Cliff Gardens was the "Grand Pavilion", which overlooked Mission Valley, and used to hold different parties and theater productions, such as, "As You Like It", which was the first showing of Shakespeare in California in 1897. So in the late 1800s, Ostrich feathers were super highly sought after, but you used to have to get them only from Africa. So Harvey Bentley in 1887, started the original Ostrich farm in America, in Coronado, California. He was then invited by John D Spreckels to move it here to the Bluffs, AKA Mission Cliff Gardens. And it became this huge tourist attraction, which is insane. People would come over here, they'd be riding Ostriches. They'd put socks over their heads and pluck feathers, and another little tidbit, if you watched our Little Italy neighborhood spotlight you'd know that San Diego is the Tuna capital of the world, but did you know that San Diego was the original Ostrich farm in America? That's pretty cool.

So finally in 1929, Mission Cliff Gardens closed to the public. A few years later, John D Spreckels passed away and all of the different lots here started selling off individually. So, in 1897, the Normal School was built at the corner of Park & El Cajon, and it was actually the original predecessor San Diego State University. That same corner now holds the San Diego Unified School District Headquarters. Another really cool landmark in University Heights is Trolley Barn Park. It's right on Adams Avenue, a little bit East of Park Boulevard. Something really cool about the park is they hold free concerts here during the Summer, every Friday night. In addition, if you're ever here on a Monday night, you'll run into me and my buddy Max, doing our weekly run. If you run along either Madison Adams or Golden Gate, the views are awesome, you see Mission Valley and the Pacific Ocean.

The community is known for having hundreds of pre-World War II craftsman homes, but here in the historic district on Shirley Anne Place, there's tons of 1920s, Spanish colonial revival homes, it's absolutely beautiful. I love University Heights, and I'm sure you do too. The community is filled with such a vibrant history and there's just so much to do here. So if you'd like to come check it out, or if you'd like to look at some homes here, contact me.



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